The last two years of the covid-19 pandemic and subsequent restrictions and lockdowns have taken their toll on everyone.
Many businesses did not survive as the hospitality industry was battered by social distancing and the tier system as we all navigated through uncertain times.
One business that has completely changed due to Covid is the Drouthy Cobbler in Elgin, a quaint town less than an hour from Inverness.
In April 2020, it was reported that dozens of staff were made redundant at the pub after it was unable to access furlough money.
The pub closed and only reopened in May 2021 with new owners, staff and a new look. Bought by Speylife in early 2021, eight weeks of renovations followed before the pub reopened.
At the helm is Kevin Smith, former manager of the Craigellachie Hotel, who runs the bar with his fiancée Tony Pollock.
Those familiar with the Craigellachie Hotel will have an idea of what to expect, as Smith helped transform the 18th-century abode into a designer retreat with a gleaming bar and drinks menu available at Copper Dog.
Food was expected to take center stage when the Drouthy reopened, although the couple were keen to welcome back regular customers. Speaking at the time, Smith said: “I don’t want to lose the ‘hipster’ vibe of the place, but we went in a different direction in terms of style.
“It’s a public house and a restaurant and the catering element is something we think Elgin could do with more. We want to push for that. We really want to be more food-focused and not just the alcohol.
At the same time, we have the alley as a drinking space, with new furniture, new lighting and a new courtyard garden.
“We are really looking forward to seeing the customers again, the people who used to love Drouthy, and all of our new regulars. We want to continue the reputation of the place and ensure that it grows.”
Booked a midweek dinner in April, keen to see the restaurant revamped and try the new menu (a few weeks before Bob Geldof came by, twice).
Located just off the main street, down a cobbled lane lit by fairy lights, the Drouthy has a welcoming atmosphere even before you step through the dark red doors.
I was looking forward to trying a cocktail from the new menu, and the recommended refreshing and not too sweet Peach Fizz, made with peach raspberry gin and prosecco, did not disappoint.
When it comes to food at Drouthy Cobbler, diners can expect a compact range of seasonal dishes with the menu split into starters and small dishes, sandwiches and sides – with a few daily specials also available.
There’s a decent selection of vegetables with the menu featuring local produce such as Geddes Farm pork and Grants of Speyside haggis.
As a starter, I chose the crispy fried calamari with salt and chilli. Squid strips were served with spring onions and green and red chilli and placed on a mayonnaise with a side of fresh lime.
The soft and tender squid was perfectly cooked, the salt and chilli batter giving it a kick that was accentuated by the accompanying chilli. .
I was almost swayed by the Scottish beef burger (a true pub classic) but opted for a special dish of monkfish risotto for my main course instead.
This dish consisted of two large chunks of juicy fish that were served with sprouting broccoli stalks over risotto sprinkled with pieces of pancetta and peas. The meaty texture of the monkfish gave body to this dish and complemented the creamy and fluffy risotto.
The pancetta added some smoky saltiness, while the peas and broccoli added some crunch. A highlight of my meal and definitely one to watch.
I kind of forgot a serving of disco fries, which seem like a meal in themselves and include additions such as bits of beef, goat cheese and barbecue sauce or bacon, parsley butter , parmesan and truffle.
With just enough room for dessert, among which there was a choice of classics such as sticky caramel pudding, creme brulee and affogato.
It was the caramel, apple and bramble crumble tart that caught my attention. A variation of a classic crumble, the fruit-filled tart was served hot with a traditional vanilla ice cream. Sweet with a hint of berry tartness, it was a great way to end the meal.
For those who prefer to finish their dinner with a cocktail, the salted caramel espresso martini served at a table across from me looked delicious.
There’s also an old-school Benromach, which is made with chocolate bitters that tease the sweet, smoky barbecue notes of this local whisky.
The Drouthy Cobbler was very busy on a midweek in early spring, and it was heartening to see a local pub come back to life after covid thanks to the thoughtful menu and great drinks, not to mention the stylish refurbishment inside like outside.
While dining alone, I really enjoyed chatting with the friendly staff and will definitely be returning with friends (and my dog).